|Thursday, August 15
Updated: August 19, 3:31 PM ET
Nuggets have nothing to lose with Bzdelik
By Marc J. Spears
Special to ESPN.com
Do you know how to pronounce the name Bzdelik? Denver Nuggets fans will have to figure it out soon since the relatively unknown but intriguing Jeff Bzdelik (pronounced buzz-DIL-ik) will likely be the franchise's next head coach soon.
Who is Bzdelik, you say? The 49-year-old has never been an NBA player or head coach. And although he was an NBA assistant for 12 years, even the most ardent basketball follower probably would have an easier time naming all of Snow White's dwarfs than giving you insight on Bzdelik. But while the likes of New Jersey Nets assistant Eddie Jordan, Utah Jazz assistant Phil Johnson and Dallas Mavericks assistants Del Harris and Donn Nelson took their names out of the hat in Denver's super long coaching search, Bzdelik quietly gained notice and praise.
Bzdelik arrived in Denver as its Eastern scout last summer after deciding to leave a position as an assistant with the Miami Heat in which he strongly appreciated his years under coach Pat Riley but was in dire need of a new challenge. After his hometown Chicago Bulls made a run at hiring him as an assistant this summer, the Nuggets showed how much they treasured Bzdelik by promoting him to assistant before even naming a head coach.
With no coach in sight, the Nuggets decided to have Bzdelik coach their Rocky Mountain Revue summer league team in mid-July. Through summer league training camp, he preached conditioning, defense, learning, listening and toughness to a talented group of young players that included lottery draft picks Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Nene Hilario as well as Donnell Harvey, Chris Andersen and Kenny Satterfield. The young Nuggets listened strongly to Bzdelik's direction and the result was an undefeated 6-0 record with an average margin of victory of 17 points in Salt Lake City.
NBA veteran Avery Johnson once poignantly said: "Summer league is summer league." Yes, the summer league has to be put in perspective. But the Nuggets weren't just impressed with the record in Utah. They were impressed with the way Bzdelik stressed development during tough practices -- a sentiment that was uncommon for this franchise in the past -- gave constructive tough love and appreciation during games and earned the respect of his players.
"I would have no objections to him being the coach," said Andersen, MVP of the Rocky Mountain Revue. "I am all for it. He knows how to run the team, and he just knows the game. He'd be great for the job."
It's one thing to get Andersen, Hilario and Harvey to buy into what you're doing. But what happens when George McCloud, Juwan Howard and Marcus Camby come to training camp in October? Will they listen to Bzdelik? Will they play with the same intensity that the summer league youngsters used? According to Bzdelik, the veterans have no choice but to buy into the new Nuggets' tough defensive system. While those may be strong words, Denver now has the personnel that would be open to the challenge.
So where did Bzdelik come from?
After serving as an assistant at Davidson (N.C.) College and Northwestern, Bzdelik took over the University of Maryland-Baltimore County program in 1986 that was making the move to Division I. Beforehand, UMBC had won a combined 11 games the previous two seasons in Division II. Under Bzdelik, the Retrievers won 25 games the next two seasons in Division I and were called "one of college's biggest turnarounds" in 1987 by The Sporting News. Then-Bullets coach Wes Unseld hired Bzdelik as an assistant in 1988. Bzdelik's Washington days ended in 1994 when Unseld resigned.
Next for Bzdelik was a scouting position with Riley in New York during the 1994-95 season. He joined Riley in Miami the next season as an assistant and advance scout. In 1997, Sports Illustrated named Bzdelik the NBA's best advance scout. In 2000, USA Today named him one of the NBA's top five assistants.
ESPN's David Aldridge is very familiar with Bzdelik and has been singing his praises for years. When Aldridge was covering Georgetown basketball for The Washington Post in the mid-'80s, he witnessed Bzdelik roaming the sideline for UMBC against the Hoyas. Aldridge also grew familiar with Bzdelik when he moved on to cover the Washington Bullets. According to Aldridge, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who works harder.
"He just knows the game," Aldridge said. "He works very well with players. He is an excellent teacher. I think he'd be a great head coach someday. I've been advocating this guy being on someone's bench for years."
Bzdelik is not officially on Denver's bench just yet as the head coach. While Nuggets brass has decided to pursue Bzdelik for the position, owner Stan Kroenke ultimately has to OK the whole thing. Then there is the task of negotiating a contract. But considering that Bzdelik has previously said he would likely take the job if offered, expectations are that this longtime-dues-paying coach will finally get his name in the spotlight after being in the background for so many years.
Bzdelik doesn't have the name of Jordan or Harris. But what he lacks in familiarity, he makes up for in hard work, talent and an ability to command respect. And considering that the Nuggets aren't expected to make any noise for at least two years, a gamble on Bzdelik wouldn't be a bad one.
Marc J. Spears covers the Denver Nuggets and the NBA for The Denver Post.